Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Interview With “5lbs Of Pressure” Director & Writer Phil Allocco

Set in Brooklyn, “5 Lbs of Pressure” is part action-thriller, part emotional drama about an ex-con (Luke Evans) who returns to his roots after serving a 16-year sentence. He must prove to himself and those around him that he is ready to return to society and work to make amends with those who were most impacted by his absence, like the son he hasn’t seen since infancy.

With an exceptional cast including Rory Culkin, Alex Pettyfer, Rudy Pankow, and Stephanie Leonidas, the story untangles a web of interconnected neighbors who all work to break the cycles of violence and leave behind their seedy lifestyles in hopes of a better future.

Phil Allocco made his directorial debut with the lighter “The Truth About Lies” (2017), which won 14 awards at festivals, including “The Best Of Fest” at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival. With “5 Lbs of Pressure,” he takes a harsher look at the struggles he saw firsthand growing up and brings a heartbreaking nail-biter to the screen. We spoke about the conception of the story and what he hopes to communicate in this film.

This is such a powerful movie. It touches on themes of generational trauma, cycles of violence, redemption, and the power of guns. What inspired the script?

Looking back, I think it’s cathartic to revisit this world. These are the things I’ve struggled with in my experience growing up around this kind of thing. Whether it’s having empathy or my anger, it’s [about] putting things I experienced into context. I am also just trying to understand a world where people are struggling to live between the cracks like that. You’re really just trying to get by, and the compromises and the decisions you have to make to do that take you into strange places. The way you live and the way [they are living], you’re really just trying to get by. And the compromises and decisions you have to make to do that take you to strange places.

Yeah, it’s a story of survival more than anything. And there’s a level of anger and violence that is normalized to a point where it’s almost like people have to fight against acting violent because that’s sort of the baseline. That anger and violence are so commonplace in their world.

I think that’s a perfect way to put it. And it’s funny because I also think about [how] we hear a lot today about toxic masculinity. I mean, I feel like it’s such a cautionary tale, for it. But you’re seeing the results, and you’re also seeing, hopefully, a little bit of what these characters go through. [Like] a character like Eli feeling like he has to do something, not trusting that there’s police or a justice system that will do it right. There’s all this ego and posturing where you feel like, “What are you going to do about it?” You know this person who murdered your brother, so that pressure, peer pressure, whatever you call it, that kind of helps perpetuate this way of being.

And even Adam… he’s seeking redemption, you know? But he’s very aggressive. He’s not listening to Donna’s boundaries. I mean, he’s doing it for what he thinks is a good reason, “I want to see my kid…” “I don’t even want to bother anyone,” or whatever. But that’s an aggressive move to go back to that neighborhood. It is setting all these things in motion. It’s like he’s not even aware of what that’s doing to Eli and his family and how it will impact people like Donna and Jimmy. She created this world to protect her son, but she’s terrified of what this information is going to do to her son. So, I like all the gray ambiguity around what is right morally.

I think it adds complexity to these stories. It’s not black and white. And there’s empathy that you can find for all of the characters. I found myself wrestling with, well, what is the right thing? Everybody has their own narrative about what is right for them. And they’re all kind of just navigating that together. 

The ending is obviously very gut-wrenching. Without saying too much, a lot of people are going to need some tissues. Was it always going to be that ending, or did you wrestle with having a lighter ending for the movie? 

I think it always needed to be that [ending]. Weirdly, everyone gets what they want. I felt like [this ending] would be really authentic and honest with the story. Everyone is doing what they say they are going to do. I think that was what I was confronted with the most as a writer because I was tempted to make them do this or make them do that, but I was trying to follow what was true, and people do what they say they’re going to do. Or what their actions say they’re going to do. And I felt like that made it the most interesting and complicated because we are so used to people when we watch movies living this altered version of life, but in my life, I saw people kind of just do what they said they were going to do. I’m fascinated by the idea of all of these characters having multiple trajectories—almost like if you put a pinball in a machine, you can track where it’s going to bounce. But once you start sending other ones, then they start hitting off each other.

Well, there’s such an incredible scene where one character says to the other, ‘You don’t have to do this’ because he’s been there. He’s like, “This isn’t going to give you the catharsis that you think… You’re going to have to live with this.” And there is a moment where I think there’s a humanity shared between them. It was such a powerful scene because it’s not just a big violent thing; it’s like they see each other as the same for just a moment. 

They are – they are creating the same cycle. I was really taken by reading something about premeditated murder. I always thought about premeditation as someone plotting and planning a murder. But it can be seconds before. When people are so emotional and things happen, it is still premeditated murder, the worst crime.

Right, and the father almost tries to stop his son from continuing to act with violence. But it made me think about which option is going to affect his son in a worse way: to think his father left or to realize this other reality and then deal with the consequences of that?

I think that’s a big thing for Donna. With Stephanie Leonidas, who is a terrific actress, by the way, we talked a lot about “What is the motivation behind this anger? And then it’s really the fear for her son. What is it going to do to his psyche knowing that his father is a murderer? Will he be horrified? Will he romanticize it? Will he think he’s doomed?” Because that’s who he is, he’s damaged her. She can’t see a way that this is going to be helpful for her son at this point in his life.

She was so hurt by the situation. I think there’s that fear of him coming back into their lives and something happening again. And I thought there was a real tenderness when they finally had a confrontation that wasn’t so angry. There was a softness to it. And he’s saying that he still loves her and all these things. She’s fighting that within herself. I thought it was so powerful when she was so strong, and she broke down the second he left.

Speaking of, the cast was incredible. How did the cast come together? Because I thought everybody just totally melded into these characters.

Well, we started with Luke Evans. And with Luke, Stephanie, and Rudy, you’re building a family. So there has to be something you believe. That was challenging, but I was thrilled they all wanted to work on it. Rudy was amazing. When we were talking, he had to know everything Jimmy was doing and every decision he made. He had to know all of that before he decided to do the film. He had to talk about the emotional part of the film. That just shows the kind of actor he is, the kind of attention to detail, and the commitment he has. He didn’t feel like he could really do it if he didn’t really understand it. He’s so intelligent. He was really taking apart the whole script. I have so much respect for him. He’s great.

And with Rory, I had seen his work. One film that really stood out for me was “Lord of Chaos.” I thought he was just brilliant. He brought so much empathy to a very unlikable character. And I knew I had a similar challenge with the character of Mike. I was just thrilled that Tom wanted to do the film, and we had a great time working together. He’s amazing and so gifted. As a director, it’s like driving my Ferrari, you know? He is so in tune with it. All of these actors brought me these characters.

What were some of your biggest challenges in bringing this project to life?

It took forever to make this film. I wrote this over 15 years ago; we had a lot of false starts. Steve Carr was on from the beginning, championing this movie. Isen Robbins (producer) has been dedicated to making this film—he’s as passionate as a writer and director himself. It wouldn’t be here without him.

We had so many challenges – even when we got Luke, we were hit with COVID. Luke was attached, and then everything got put on hiatus, and then by the time we could finally make it again, we had to make sure he still wanted to make it. And luckily, he did, and that shows the integrity he has. There are everyday challenges every filmmaker faces. Another big one was that we chose to shoot this in the UK. All the actors – well, not all of them, but most of the actors are British. Our locations were a lot of work to get them to look and feel how we wanted them to.

That’s shocking. It feels so much like New York. I lived in New York for a long time, and that really surprised me. You guys did a great job.

That’s great to hear. We also brought a dialect coach, Rick Lipton, a supreme talent and one of the best in the industry. He was in there every day to make sure we didn’t have different dialects and all the actors were on the same page. Those were big challenges. And there was a lot of attention to detail that I hope pays off. I am excited to hear that it worked for you. I hope we pulled it off.

“5lbs Of Pressure” is opening in select cities on March 8th. You can check out the trailer below.

You can follow Elise and hear more of her thoughts on the Oscars and Film on Inglorious Baguettes here

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